Another weekend, another marathon Senate session hangs over our heads like a raincloud, or, more accurately, a snow cloud.
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The Senate's Christmas plans may hinge on Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson's health vote.
The Senate's Christmas plans may hinge on Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson's health vote. Alex Wong/Getty Images
But there may be a ray of sunlight. Come Monday morning around 1 a.m., we should know once and for all if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can muster enough votes to pass a health care bill.
"We've been here at least three weeks, and we'll be here more," Majority Whip Richard Durbin declared on the Senate floor this morning. He lamented that he'd given up "a lot" for the job. He probably spoke for many who are upset about missing family time around the holidays, and said it was "because Republicans have done everything possible to delay this vote."
Not so fast, fired back Sen. Tom Coburn, Republican from Oklahoma: "We're here the week before Christmas because somebody has set an artificial deadline that we have to pass a health care bill then."
Besides the partisan sniping, Democrats face the problem of convincing their own members to support their health bill. Right now, the bull's-eye is on the back of Senator Ben Nelson of Mutual of Omaha, as one newsroom wag joked this morning. Nelson's health vote has been on-again and off-again, mainly due to his opposition to federal funding for abortions.
Democrats also face shrinking support from the public for this plan, according to the latest polls. Plenty of people are not too excited about supporting a bill that doesn't include a government-run health insurance plan, known as the public option, or an expansion of Medicare. But those items were essentially given away earlier this week to woo Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut back into the fold.
And that brings us back to the liberals, who are torn up over agreeing to pass a bill that bends too far toward the handful of moderates in their party at the expense of including better health benefits. (For the record, columnist and liberal touchstone Paul Krugman urges: Pass the Bill.)
So we'll be watching for any smoke signals emerging from the Capitol's warren of negotiation rooms that Reid has 60 votes to pass health care. If history is any guide, the prospects for Senate action always look the darkest before a major breakthrough.
The Senate will technically debate a bill to fund the Defense Department today and tomorrow on the floor. Right now Reid is poised to introduce the manager's package — aka his final offer on health care overhaul—after a Saturday at 7 a.m. vote on DoD funding. Unless Republicans agree to allow an earlier vote, the earliest chance for a vote on the manager's package would be around 1 a.m. Monday morning.
If Reid's package passes the 60-vote threshold, then it's basically game over. It means health care will pass the Senate a few hours or days later.
But that still doesn't guarantee a law. Even if the Senate passes a bill, it then has to be married up with the House bill, which could take weeks or months of fresh wrangling.